For the second time in his MotoGP career, Valentino Rossi is to change crew chiefs. At the end of the 2019 season, David Muñoz, currently crew chief for Nicolo Bulega in the Sky Racing Team VR46 Moto2 team, will replace Silvano Galbusera as crew chief for Rossi in the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team.
The news was first broken by Spanish daily AS.com early on Thursday, and confirmed by Rossi later in the pre-event press conference for the Thailand round of MotoGP at Buriram. "Yes, it's true," Rossi said in response to a question from Mela Chercoles, the journalist who broke the story. "Next year I will change my chief mechanic. It was good, because after the Misano race we spoke with Silvano, because we want to try to do something to be stronger."
Rossi explained that there were a number of factors involved. "It was different factors together, because also Silvano wanted to work for Yamaha but he wanted to try something with less stress and also with less days out of Italy. At the same time Yamaha wanted to try to make the test team stronger for next year to improve the work in Europe. I didn’t expect it at the beginning but speaking together we decided to change so Silvano will go to the test team next year."
From Moto2 to MotoGP
Rossi's new crew chief, David Muñoz, is currently in the Sky Racing Team VR46 Moto2 squad, where he is working with Nicolo Bulega. Rossi already knows quite a lot about Muñoz, as the Spaniard helped Pecco Bagnaia win the Moto2 title last year. "It is a new experience and he doesn’t have any experience with the MotoGP bike but he is very young and has good ideas," Rossi said.
What had impressed Rossi most about Muñoz was the way he had remained calm at the end of Bagnaia's title season, managing both his rider and the bike as the Italian came under pressure from title rival Miguel Oliveira. "I like the way he managed it at the end of the season, there was a lot of pressure and Pecco was a little bit nervous to lose the championship with Oliveira, I liked him. He is quiet and the way he managed the situation worked."
Yamaha's gain is of course the Sky VR46 team's loss. "I asked him and unfortunately it is something negative for our team as he is something very important for our team but we decided to try so we will see," Rossi said.
The future in his hands
Underlying Rossi's move to change crew chiefs is the pending decision on his future in racing, on whether he will seek a new contract for 2021 or retire at the end of 2020. He hinted at this in his responses in the press conference. "I have the contract for next year and for the future it depends very much on the results of next year." Rossi has previously said that he wants to see how he fares in the first six or seven races of 2020 before drawing any conclusions about whether he should retire or not.
Rossi expanded on this in his remarks to Italian journalists after the press conference was over. If there is the possibility of 2020 being his last season, then he didn't want to go out without having tried everything to make a success of it, the Italian said. "It would be worse if I didn't try it," Rossi said. "I would rather live without any regrets. Someone else in my position might have said, OK, maybe 2020 is my last season, maybe it's more comfortable leaving everything the same. I was thinking, let's try, dammit. We have to try our best. The worst thing can happen is that it doesn't work, but I will not have any regrets."
The biggest risk in the change is that David Muñoz has no experience working in MotoGP. But Rossi does not see that as a problem. "Maybe this change will need some time, but in MotoGP now, the chief mechanic doesn't work alone. There are at least three or four engineers who help with the electronics, with the balance of the bike. But we will see."
Coordinator in chief
As MotoGP machines have grown more complicated, the role of the crew chief has changed. Areas have become more specialized, with engineers working increasingly in specific niches. As a consequence, crew chiefs have taken on more of a supervisory role, listening to the feedback of their rider, coordinating the various people in the team and orchestrating their work.
This has made having knowledge of every specific part of the bike less important, and placed more of an emphasis on having a fundamental understanding of vehicle dynamics. For that reason, many current crew chiefs are former suspension technicians who have expanded their roles.
Rossi's split with Galbusera has at least been handled better than the previous split with Jeremy Burgess. The news of the switch to Muñoz came out after conversations with Galbusera. That had not been the case for Burgess, who found out after news that Rossi was considering a switch leaked in the Italian media. Burgess told the media he felt he had been 'blindsided' by Rossi's decision, whereas Galbusera had been at least been involved in the discussions previously.
Looking to the future
Will Rossi's decision make a difference to his results? One driving factor behind Rossi's decision is the difference in age. Muñoz is much younger than Galbusera, and Rossi will be hoping that the energy of youth will help his performance.
But in reality, Rossi's future lies more in the hands of the engineers in Japan, rather than the personnel at the track. There has already been more movement and development from Japan than in previous years, with Rossi and teammate Maverick Viñales able to test early prototypes of the 2020 Yamaha M1 at the Brno and Misano tests, and Yamaha bringing a carbon swingarm and updated exhaust to Misano, as well as electronics updates.
If Yamaha can continue with that pace of development, they have a chance to catch Ducati, Suzuki, and Honda. And in that case, Rossi will have a chance to understand his real potential against Marc Márquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, and more importantly, teammate Viñales and Petronas Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo. That is the basis on which he will eventually make a decision about continuing.
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